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MEXICO SEEKS U.S. FUNDS IN DRUG FIGHT, OFFICIALS SAY

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, locked in a bloody confrontation with drug cartels, is negotiating a massive drug aid package with the Bush administration worth hundreds of millions of dollars, several officials say.

Officials on both sides are working out the details of a package that resembles a U.S. aid plan for Colombia. The talks have been taking place quietly for several months and will be a central item on the agenda when President Bush and Calderon are expected to meet in Quebec on Aug. 20-21 at the North American leaders' summit.

Mexican officials have been reluctant to go public with the discussions, mindful of anti-U.S. sentiments harbored by many Mexicans. But the conservative Calderon believes he has little choice but to enlist U.S. help given the cross-border nature of drug trafficking and the ruthlessness of Mexico's drug gangs, officials and observers told McClatchy Newspapers.

Most of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic and because the details of the plan could change in coming weeks. In public, U.S. officials say little other than to acknowledge the discussions.

"We're working very closely with the Mexicans on counter-narcotics on a variety of fronts and at all levels of government," said National Security Council spokeswoman Katherine Starr. "Presidents Bush and Calderon look forward to discussing this and other issues when they meet in Canada in August."

Drug-related violence has cost the lives of 3,000 Mexicans in the past year and forced the intervention of 20,000 federal troops.

The price tag on the more ambitious aspiration is $1.2-billion, but a more modest proposal has emerged in recent weeks in the area of $700-million, said one person familiar with the talks.

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